Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

How Philosophy Can Save Your Love Life

Rare are the books which combine light-touched erudition and insightful confessions. John Kagg’s ‘American Philosophy’ certainly succeeds on both accounts. This title may first appear misleading for an early candid exploration into a failed marriage if the author-narrator didn’t prove to be a professional researcher of the origins of this strange outgrowth of the Western tradition: American Philosophy. The accidental discovery of a long abandoned family library in the remote mountains of New Hampshire prompts a most unusual journey of philosophical ...

Philosophers and Politics

Disillusioned by his failed mission to turn the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius II into a Philosopher-King, Plato immortalised, in the Allegory of the Ship, the isolation of the philosopher in a world plagued by false ideas and unprincipled politicians. His mentor Socrates kept away from political intrigues to concentrate on his ‘daemon’ (or ‘spirit’) and how to reach truth through his ‘maieutic' method of eliciting new ideas through argumentative dialogue. Diogenes shared Socrates’ splendid detachment from public affairs as illustrated by ...

Can Nothingness Be Defined?

Nothingness is a slippery philosophical concept which despite its apparent immateriality has always intrigued philosophers, theologians and spiritualists of all cultures. Western Philosophy has its roots in Greek thinking and its inherent belief in ‘Being’. In Plato’s case, his entire philosophical system rests on a priori certainty of the ‘existence’ of Pure Ideas. How could we attribute qualities or defects to something without assuming the presence or existence of that ‘something’? By adopting such a position, we are left with ...

Philosophising in the Shadow of Trees

When gathering his students outside the Academy, did Plato urge them to sit in the shade of (already) ancestral olive trees or did he urge them to stand in-between the shadow of its imposing columns? Apart from the Buddha, longing for spiritual experience under a Bodhi tree, philosophers do not seem to lift their heads to admire these mute witnesses of historical events and by-gone generations. And yet, the first (possibly philosophical) conversations of our remote ancestors took place in ...

Existentialist Novels

The summer months are ideal for making forays into neglected intellectual territories. Existentialist novels are traditionally reduced to two major works: Sartre’s Nausea (1938), a rich study of a character in search of historical as well as ‘existential’ truth and Camus’ The Outsider (1942), whose non-hero finds himself tragically involved in a murder case. But what characterises an ‘existentialist novel’ if not the quest for fundamental answers to perennial questions? In this respect, all of Dostoevsky’s works fit this description and the ...

Herbert Marcuse, Catalyst of the 60’s Protest Movements

Today, who remembers or even reads Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), post-Marxist theoretician and last proponent of a society founded on total human emancipation and personal self-accomplishment? In The One Dimensional Man (1964), his scathing attack of the ‘ideology of advanced industrial society’, Marcuse deplored the narrowing down of modern consumers’ aspirations as ‘they recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.’ Exiled to America with his fellow-members of the Frankfurt School of Social ...

Philosophy and May ’68 (Part 2)

Among the philosophers who exerted a strong influence on pre and post ’68 Continental philosophy was Jacques Deleuze (1925–1985). The latter explored new ways of thinking in his critical and highly original reinterpretations of Leibniz, Hume and especially Nietzsche’s works. as well as in his forays into psychoanalysis with his collaborator and friend Félix Guattari. Their Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, published in 1972, was a brave attempt at redefining the unconscious as a ‘desire-producing machine’ instead of a hidden theatre ...

For a Global Approach to Philosophy

All philosophies tend towards the same goal: the acquisition of wisdom, be it through transcendental meditation, spiritual contemplation or rational investigation. In a world open to all sorts of false claims, dangerous reinterpretations and approximations of so called ‘new truths’, philosophy, often under attack from malevolent quarters, has never appeared so urgently needed to repair our dented certainties and restore our belief in the power of objective reason and personal self-enlightenment. In his ambitious work Taking Back Philosophy. A Multicultural Manifesto (Columbia ...

Bergson and Proust on Time and Memory

In his 1910 doctoral thesis entitled Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, Henri Bergson (1859–1941) argued against the received quantifying method of dividing time into countable units which ignored and simply disposed of its psychological dimension. Instead, he developed a new theory of time, conceived as an essentially subjective experience, introducing the concept of ‘pure duration’ made out of ‘nothing but a succession of qualitative changes, which melt into and permeate one another, without ...

Martin Buber’s ‘I and Thou’ Relation

In an age where identity is being questioned in the light of the latest technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, Martin Buber’s thought is a welcome reminder of how our relation with others remains the deepest and most solid foundation of our morality and humanity. Steeped in Jewish theology and culture, Buber (1878–1965) was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century as he transcended his own Jewish faith to encompass the Christian tradition and offer the ...

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